Portugal. The Man
Evil Friends

Portugal. The Man have managed to stay busy and successful these past 10 years with seven studio albums and five EPs. The four-piece band has played sets at big-name festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo, and will continue their performance streak with a multi-city tour through the US with Grouplove.

On Tuesday, Aug. 12, Portugal. The Man returned to San Francisco for the first stop of their tour: a special benefit show for StubHub’s Next Stage Concert Series. All ticket sales for the show will go to three Oakland schools through The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, which helps fund music programs in underserved schools.

After their soundcheck, Portugal. The Man held a meet and greet with the opening act, a band from one of the Oakland schools. When the high schoolers left to play a soundcheck of their own, bassist Zach Carothers and keyboardist Kyle O’Quin talked to us about working with Danger Mouse, their Sumatran Tiger project, and Taco Bell.

TMN: Tell us about Alaska.

Zach: That’s where I’m from and where John and I met, and it was a huge inspiration to be up there. Obviously the natural beauty and isolation is really attractive, but the thing it lacks is direct influence. There’s not a huge art scene up there, not a huge music scene. So when we moved down to Portland, where we lived now, we got flooded with all this amazing underground media. We were going to shows every night for $3, seeing these little bands. It really inspired us to get out there and go for it. We decided to go on tour and we haven’t really stopped.

TMN: Nice, do you go back often and play a show there?

Zach: Yeah, at least once a year. At least. We try to go back twice, but it all kind of depends what the schedule is like. We always go back up for Christmas, so we play a show around then.

TMN: I read that back in the day, you hustled to gain traction through platforms like MySpace and Pure Volume. What was promotional process like back then?

Zach: It was awesome. A lot easier to keep up with than it is now, though a lot more people like us than back then. I still try to write back to everyone who writes us personally on Facebook and Twitter. I have like, 8,000 emails to catch up on. It’s getting to be a lot, but I want people to know that even if I don’t respond, I read every single one. We have very busy lives, but around Christmas, I’ll be at my mom’s house, answering emails from, like, April, saying, “Sorry. It’s April. But I want you to know that the band saw this. Thank you very much.” We need to get better at that.

TMN: You guys managed to crank out an impressive amount of work in the last 10 years. How do consistently manage to stay organized, motivated, and creative during studio time?

Kyle: We are incredibly unorganized. Not at all organized.

Zach: We love to play music, and so the other stuff isn’t that hard. It’s just practice.

Kyle: We do it everyday. It’s like inertia — if you’re not doing much, it’s hard to get something going; but if you’re always working on something, even if it’s completely unorganized and 90% of it gets unfinished, the other 10% is enough where we’re say, “let’s go record.” We’ll have this vault of ideas with demos, and we make shit up everyday. It never seems like an issue.

Zach: It’s also due to all the traveling we do. The amazing things we see and people we get to meet. We find stories everywhere. We’ll bring cameras and a notebook and see what happens.

TMN: Your album art is extremely creative and known as such. What goes into the thought process for the accompanying art? Any influence from the album or songs, or vice versa with the art inspiring those titles?

Zach: A lot of times it’s heavy contrast, actually. If it’s a super dark album or song, we’ll name the album something bright and sunny with a lot of colors.

Kyle: Satanic Satanist has the brightest art ever.

Zach: John does all the artwork with our buddy Austin, and I take all the pictures. It started off just as, we didn’t have any money to pay someone to do our artwork, but it’s become our thing. We keep control of everything we can, while still doing everything ourselves.

TMN: You wanted to avoid a virtual leak of American Ghetto by not releasing copies before its official release. How have the album release processes gone since then?

Zach: They’re doing great, and every album leaks a little early. In this day and age, people are going to download it anyway. We just like to know where we are at and when it leaks. When people download it, we have no way of tracking any of that. We just like to know how many fans we have in a particular city, just for our information. I know people are going to steal the music. The thing you have to think about is, if you love or like the band and want to support them, there are ways to do that. You don’t have to buy a record — you can buy a t-shirt or go to a show. If you want to see that band come back to your city, you have to do something about it. You have to work for it. It is everybody’s investment in the music they love.

TMN: Now for the burning question – what was it like working with Danger Mouse? What was a typical studio session like?

Kyle: Pretty much you walk in with nothing for the day. It was all very collaborative. He’s a very quiet, humble guy who is really good at what he does. He’s the most classic producer that the band, or any of us, have ever worked with. It might start with a chord progression, drum beat, bass riff, or vocal melody. I think almost every song on there has a different scene, so that’s why some of the songs sound classic, or hip-hop influenced. They all start with something different. We do a song a day, so we go into the studio and on the spot, finish it. He kept it fresh. We didn’t have time to go home and dwell on it. The process really captured the moment.

Zach: It was all about your first instinct, and what felt natural.

Kyle: If one thing wasn’t going good with him for a second, the session was deleted.

TMN: Your project to raise awareness of Sumatran tigers was super unique. How did you pick the lucky 400 recipients of the vinyl recording?

Zach: It was mainly supposed to be social influencers. Basically, people that we know would spread it. We gave it to some super hardcore fans who have been around forever. We gave it to some actors, radio people – we didn’t want to name names – but we gave it to some really cool people who would help do good and raise awareness. It was a great idea and our favorite project we’ve ever done. It was a very interesting and cool way to do good.

TMN: Tonight’s show is a special event, where 100% of the ticket proceeds go to funding music programs at Bay Area schools. What does participating in this charity mean to the band?

Kyle: I grew up lucky enough to go to all these programs. I played jazz and had classical lessons. I didn’t take any of that for granted, and I probably wouldn’t be here playing if I didn’t do that.

Zach: Same here. I had a public music program, but I’ve watched it since then, dwindle down to be worse and worse, to pretty much nonexistent. That’s what got me to be interested. It’s so important to keep everything going. We’d absolutely do anything we can to help any foundation like this, putting instruments in the hands of children. We do a lot of these kinds of things, and we’re all about that.

TMN: Congrats on the Taco Bell commercial feature. What was that like?

Zach: I love Taco Bell!

Kyle: I had Taco Bell last night.

Zach: They actually do a lot of cool things with music. They have this thing called Feed the Beat. When we started out, we were horribly, horribly poor, and straight up couldn’t afford to eat. The program sends Taco Bell gift cards to bands. It has saved us so many times, so we were all about them. But it’s funny because a lot of our fans were pissed, and they don’t see any connection. People called us sellouts, saying we used to be cool. Then we’ll post something about how we’re donating $25,000 to kids and they’re congratulating us. It’s like, do you not see the correlation that it takes money to take money to give away money? It drives me absolutely crazy.

TMN: Who would you guys most like to work with?

Both: Ooo…

Zach: That’s a tough one. Wu-Tang.

Kyle: Yes.

Zach: Kanye. We’d all say Kanye.

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Portugal. The Man